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The Interceders Encourager No. 27

The State of the Church in the Western World

Even though the meetings at Lakeland seem to be coming to an end, I am convinced that the Lord has lessons He wants us to learn from all this, so that we become better and stronger and more open to Him.

When people ask, "How could anyone accept what is going on at Lakeland and associated places is of God?" there is one very obvious answer. It is because over the last decades, (some would say much longer than that), the church has lowered its standards and compromised with the world to such an extent that Lakeland has not seemed all that different to what we have seen before.

During this period, churches, especially in the USA, have gradually conformed to the world’s standards. The world’s television programmes, its amusements, its dress standards, its consumerism, its attitude to laying up treasure on earth, its emphasis on bodily health, wealth and beauty, its love of worldly pleasure, its emphasis on this life rather than the next, its avoidance of thinking or speaking about death and judgment; have all been adopted or accepted by the Church. Moreover, not only in its thinking and attitudes has the Church copied the world, not surprisingly, it has also done so in its behaviour. It has become more informal, more casual, more disrespectful, more irreverent and more non-judgmental, so that being intolerant of anything or anybody is regarded as bad. In some churches, people are even allowed to walk around during services and meetings, (which was especially noticeable at Lakeland). The Church, having accepted the world’s standards, now apes the world. It has elevated children and young people above adults, the very opposite of what the Bible says, and copies their worldly pop music, emphasising loud music groups. In addition, influenced by Toronto, many churches got used to people going out to the front of the auditorium, being prayed for, falling over and lying on the floor for some time, regarding it as quite normal, even though we have seen it is due to occultic influences.

So now, when confronted by Lakeland, they have been ready to accept the next stage of the lowering of standards and deviation from the Word of God, and have not been shocked or outraged by the worldliness of it all, the extreme lack of reverence, the lack of fear of God, the incredibly loud worldly pop music, its seeking to amuse and entertain people, its seeking after money by offering bribes, its emphasis on this life rather than the next, people falling over when hands are laid on them, people shaking and jerking uncontrollably, the extremely loud music with songs being repeated again and again, the Bible hardly being used, with no teaching from the word of God, a declared agreement with the teachings of a denounced heretic, more emphasis on angels than on Jesus, claims to be taken up into the third heaven, which we have seen is demonic, claims to communication with the dead, claims to healings that have not been proved, people being laughed at and ridiculed, people doubling up in pain and crying out in fear when hands are laid on them, and people being pushed and kicked and treated violently; with the result that all that the audience does is to laugh at what is happening.

The whole matter of Lakeland has shown up how low the Church in the West has sunk, how worldly it has become, and how far away from God it has gone when things as bad as this do not shame us or cause us to weep tears of sorrow. Leonard Ravenhill said he was embarrassed to be part of the Church of Jesus Christ today as it was so totally different from the Church of the New Testament; so impoverished, so blind and so powerless to bring people to salvation. He died years ago, long before Lakeland, but he would not have been surprised at it, for he would have said it was the next stage down, and we were reaping what we had sown.

Our spiritual forefathers, the true believers of every Christian age; the Early Christians, the Montanists, the Cathari, the Paulicians, the Bogomoli, the Waldensians, the Albigenses, the Lollards, the Hussites, the United Brethren, the Reformation churches, especially the Anabaptists, the Mennonites, the Huguenots, the English Dissenters, the Pietists, the Moravians, the Early Methodists, the Primitive Methodists, the Bible Christians, and all those who have experienced true revival and persecution down the centuries and today, would all look with horror upon the Western churches of today, with their worldliness, their compromise, their irreverence, their tolerance, their lack of Biblical standards; and would say that they are not Christian churches at all, for they do not live in the light of eternity. All these others I have mentioned lived simply, with moral standards way above their contemporaries.

Our forefathers and our contemporaries in the Persecuted Church would also recognise another serious shortcoming in Lakeland and other churches. They are displaying a "Come and get it" mentality instead of a "Come and give it" attitude. Even that is only touching on the truth. If the churches in the West were as they should be, and were true to the Bible, they would be showing a "Come and Confess" attitude, a "Return and Repent" attitude, a "Humble and Honour" attitude, and a "Submit and Surrender" attitude, so that God could then truly pour out his blessings, that make us rich with no sorrow.

Michael Youssef, (on www.sermonindex.com), points out that today’s churches, in seeking to be user friendly, have betrayed the gospel, saying to people that they can get all of God’s blessings in this life, which is the opposite of what Jesus said. They are like the false prophets of Jeremiah’s time who prophesied peace when there was no peace. The ideas of repentance and brokenness before God had become strange and alien concepts to the people of the time, who were not concerned about any coming judgement. Today’s preachers are the same, seeking to be acceptable and popular. Preaching about sin and repentance and judgement is so negative, they think, seeking to excuse themselves from telling the truth. But, just like the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day, these leaders have betrayed God and failed His people.

The churches have to get back to stressing the greatness of God and His holiness, and the proper response that we should give, that of submission and surrender. One of the reasons why Islam is winning more people worldwide is because it presents an Almighty God, to whom we should submit, and who will direct people’s lives. Christianity in the West, on the other hand, offers an anaemic "Come to Jesus. Come and get it. It doesn’t matter how you live," and people are not challenged or convicted by it.

The same lax attitudes pervade inside the churches. Members will go to meetings, provided it is not inconvenient, and will be more tempted if refreshments are provided, and if there is an entertaining singer or choir. But tell them of an activity which will cost them something, which will involve giving and not getting, and you will normally get a negative response. Our forefathers would not have accepted such people into the church. In many churches it would be true to say what Isaiah said of God’s people in his day, "From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it." (Is.1:6)

Jeremiah also felt terrible about the way God’s people were behaving in his day that he cried over them. He cried because he knew that God’s people had exchanged man made broken cisterns that could hold no water for the fountain of living water, God Himself. In the same way, so many of today’s churches have replaced reality with very poor substitutes that are ineffective.

a) They are seeking worldly health, wealth and success instead of seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness.

b) They are seeking approval by man instead of approval by God.

c) They are using advertising and marketing strategies instead of waiting on God in prayer.

d) They are going for the latest techniques instead of looking for the ancient paths.

e) They are stressing self-fulfilment instead of self-denial.

f) They are compromising with the world instead of contrasting with the world.

g) They are entertaining the world instead of confronting the world.

h) They are making the gospel more acceptable instead of declaring the unchanging word of God.

i) They are blessing the world instead of crying over it and warning it.

j) They are giving people what they want instead of what they need.

k) They are setting up activities to interest people instead of presenting Christ as the only answer.

l) They are pandering to people instead of reproving them.

m) They are trying to make people happy instead of trying to make them holy.

n) They are showing complacency instead of showing concern.

o) They are satisfied with shallowness instead of seeking to go deeper into the things of God.

p) They are seeking cheap laughs rather than costly humility.

q) They are openly promoting human personalities and music groups instead of promoting Christ.

r) They are seeking to do everything by human means and avoiding what can be done only by the Holy Spirit, namely true conviction of sin.

s) They are preaching the gospel of peace and prosperity instead of preaching the true gospel of repentance before a holy God.

t) They are proclaiming an easy believism gospel instead of proclaiming the way of the cross.

u) They are despising the sufferings of Christ and dispensing with suffering with Christ.

This is why God is crying over today’s Church, as Jeremiah cried over God’s people in his day and Jesus cried over Jerusalem.

Leonard Ravenhill has said, "Anything that tells people that they can easily become Christians and get right with God is not of Him, for Jesus said, ‘Whoever would come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.’" But you may say that the offer of the gospel is free, and it certainly does not cost you any money, but to get in, you need honesty, humility, courage, repentance and the willingness to give up everything you have, or it is not worthy of the one who gave up everything for us. Just ask the believers in places where the Church is persecuted. They know what it costs to become a Christian, as did our spiritual forefathers. Jesus said His followers would be persecuted, and Paul tells us that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (Jn.15:20, 2Tim.3:12), so we need to face up to the fact that something has gone drastically wrong with the Christianity presented by the Western Church. We think we are so clever and sophisticated, and our evangelism is so good and much better organised. But look at the results. Even though we make it so easy to become a Christian, almost all of the "converts" fall away, and those that remain are usually weak and not fully committed. Christianity to them is just an extra added on to their Western lifestyle, something our spiritual forefathers would find abhorrent.

If the way that the Western Church has made the "gospel" more acceptable and less demanding over the past decades was right and of God, then we would have seen multitudes of people becoming Christians, and we would not have seen the huge turning away from God to false religions, moral standards plummeting, the terrible increase in crime, in family breakdown, in drug taking, etc. The evidence speaks for itself. This anaemic replacement of the gospel has just made things worse, for God has been showing His disapproval, and the judging will get worse and worse until we return to His standards and proclaim His truth. Our predecessors, the true believers, would not recognise today’s churches as Christian churches at all. "You are playing at Christianity," they would say. "You are not taking the things of God seriously. You are not living as God’s people in a sinful world."

Josef Ton of Romania, (on www.obeyJesus.net), would echo those words from the standpoint of those who have known persecution.. "The picture of Jesus portrayed in the West is not Biblical," he affirms. "Jesus is a Santa Claus to give you everything you want: self-fulfilment and self-esteem. But the New Testament says Jesus is Lord, as Peter declared on the Day of Pentecost, and as Paul stated: ‘For this reason Christ died, that we should no longer live for ourselves, but for the One who died for us.’ (2Cor.5:15) ‘The purpose for which Christ died was that He might be Lord of the dead and the living.’ (Rom.14:9) All Christians are servants. They accept the greatness and majesty of Jesus, and His rule over their lives. That is why we say to people that if they come to Jesus it will cost them everything. Paul declared that the Lord had called him to bring people from under the dominion of Satan to being under the dominion of God, so we have to decide who is our owner and whose slaves we are. Paul said he was the slave of Jesus Christ, for we have all been bought by the precious blood of Christ, so we are no longer our own.

In the Western Church’, continued Ton, ‘You have replaced the concept of surrender with the concept of commitment. But this is not what Jesus taught. We have to surrender completely and die to self and sin and pride and self esteem. The false doctrine of Roman Catholicism, that some, the full time people, are called to self denial and a higher standard than the rest, who can have lower standards, has been accepted even into so called evangelical churches, as if discipleship is an option to choose later. But the New Testament does not say that. Jesus said that if anybody wanted to follow Him, he had to deny himself, take up his cross and follow him. Taking up your cross means suffering for the sake of Christ, for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of the lost. As Jesus went to be crucified for our salvation, we accept to suffer and die for others salvation. The death of Christ was for our propitiation. Our death is for the propagation of the gospel.

That is why the cost of following Jesus has to be weighed up. Revival came to Romania when people were willing to die for the sake of Christ. In 1974, a preacher, who had been in prayer for years, and who had been forbidden from preaching all that time, was given permission to preach. He started preaching against all the sins of the people, one by one, and called people to confess, to repent, to renounce their sins, and give up everything for the sake of Jesus. It was a call to holiness, to prayer and to sacrifice. Many young people responded, and said they wanted to be 100% for Jesus. He preached strongly against alcohol, even though the area was full of vineyards, saying that alcohol blocks all spiritual life, and churches made pledges that they would be teetotal, and would renounce all other sins. One church had previously received about ten people into membership each year, but from June to December 1974, they baptised 249 converts." And all this was in a time of Communist repression and persecution, when they knew that standing for Christ would be costly.

What does God want us to learn from all this?

1) "If you want to be part of the true Church, the Bride of Christ," says Paris Reidhead, "you’ve got to be divorced from everything in the world, and put Jesus first. You have to die to yourself, and admit that you can do nothing without Him. You need to present your body as a living sacrifice to God, and really put Him at the centre of your life. Have done, once and for all, with humanistic Christianity that makes God a means and not the end." As against the Lakeland mentality, you have to "realise that what matters is not what you can get from God, but what God can get from you, and what He can do through you. The only reason for your being is the glory of God in Jesus Christ, so tell Him, because He is worthy of all that you have and are, that you’re going to love him and serve Him and obey Him as long as you live, so that ‘The Lamb who was slain may receive the reward of His sufferings.’"

2) If we are to see God work, we must seek Him only, not miracles, not signs and wonders, not even His gifts, but just Him. We need to seek His face, and come to really know Him, His holiness, His purity, His glory. As we do so, we will truly understand our own sin and wretchedness, plead for His forgiveness and cleansing, allow Him to have His way in us and through us, and then know His generosity.

3) We need to stress the greatness and holiness of God, and make sure that all the praise and thanks for everything goes to Him alone. In most churches there is no awareness that we are seeking to worship a Holy, Almighty God. There is no fear of the Lord in our services. Nothing seems to be sacred any more. Before the services start, people move around, talk and make a lot of noise, as if it was just a social club, when they should be sitting quietly praying for the Holy Spirit to come down, as they do in times of revival. But, of course, the tragedy is that they are not expecting God to do anything.

A related aspect of this is the way that children are often allowed to move around and make noises that interrupt and distract people from praying and listening to the word of God. We assume they cannot take anything in spiritually, but that is not true. In the past, adults would have prayed for and expected children to receive the word; and I have seen children in other countries sitting quietly and respectfully, listening very intently to everything that was said. Why should it not be like that here?

4) We need to ensure that everything we do is tested by the word of God, and that we do not tempt Him in any way, or seek to push back the boundaries of what He has said we can do. The word of God must be highly valued, constantly read and consulted, preached fully at every service or meeting, and promptly obeyed. That is certainly not the case now. The Bible is devalued, especially in most churches claiming to be "evangelical." Many services have only one reading from the Bible, and that is often read in a slovenly way, even with mistakes, not clearly, with authority, as the Word of God should be read.

Moreover, many church leaders do not want their churches to be judged by the Word of God. To them, as at Lakeland, all that matters is attracting people, making them interested, making them happy, making them fulfilled, and getting them to make some kind of commitment, as Josef Ton said. Biblical standards are not honestly considered. Our forefathers would cry at our disrespect of the Bible.

5) We must learn to be more discerning, and test everything according to the word of God. Lakeland, along with its predecessors, has shown up how gullible the Church has become because people do not know their Bibles, and their lives, as we have seen, are centred on this life, so they have made themselves easy to be deceived. Moreover, they have accepted the lies they have been told about switching off their minds to receive the things of the Spirit, which we have seen is unscriptural. Such teachings must be refuted, for they open the church up to demons. We must never open ourselves up to anything other than the Holy Spirit, always addressing our requests to the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit by name.

6) We need to ask the Lord to keep the devil and all his angels(demons), out of our lives and out of our services and meetings. If we are playing at church, the devil does not have to bother about us, for his kingdom is secure, but if we are seeking to be open to the Holy Spirit, and are seeking to do God’s will, then we have to be constantly on our guard, for the evil one will attack us in every way, will seek to distract us and destroy the work of God. This is especially so in the realm of prayer. Do not give him a toehold, but resist him and overcome him by the blood of the Lamb.

7) We must never look directly to angels to help us. God will send His angels to us when He knows we need them, or when we ask Him to send them. We need to remember that angels do not understand the nature of redemption. They long to look into such things, but are not able, (1Pet.1:12). Only the Son understands the Father, not angels, so they cannot reveal God in redemption to anyone.

8) We must always test prophecy. Jeremiah 23 is very helpful here. Prophecy from an ungodly person is not from God. (vv.11-12) Prophecy with no moral content and no warning is not from God. (vv. 13-15) False prophets speak good things, and fill people with vain hope. (vv. 16-17) Such people have not stood in the council of the Lord to perceive and hear His word. (v.18) Those who are real prophets have stood in His council, warn people and turn them from the evil of their ways. (vv.21-22) Let us learn this.

9) We must make sure we have the right emphasis on healing. In the New Testament, the apostles never held healing meetings. Although we are told the word was with power, that gifts of healing are in the gift package from the Holy Spirit, and some miracles of healing are reported; nevertheless, they are never the main emphasis. The stress is always laid on preaching the gospel, for God’s primary concern is on healing and changing the heart, the spirit, rather than the body. The body is temporary, the spirit is eternal. God is concerned with holiness and righteousness above everything else. He wants people to share eternity with Him, and if their spirits have been redeemed and sanctified, they will be able to do so, even if their bodies have been far from perfect, and many of the greatest saints have had to bear illness for years, and in doing so, have proved the grace of God in a way that would not have been possible had they been physically well.

This is not to say that we should not care about people’s bodies. Obviously, we should do so. But we should care most about where they spend eternity. People who are healed do not, necessarily become believers. Thousands of people, possibly, were healed during the earthly ministry of Jesus, but when the Son of God spelt out the cost of discipleship, they all went away and left Him. Miracles are important in God’s plan, but always as a means and not an end. They are the means of displaying His power and glory, so that people come to repentance and faith.

In the Early Church, even the healing that is given the greatest prominence, that of the crippled man who was laid at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, and was raised up so that he was walking and leaping and praising God, is demoted to that of an illustration of the power in the name of Jesus, so that Peter could preach about Him, with the result that thousands of people believed. Elsewhere in the New Testament, people are healed when they personally ask for healing, (though not always), or somebody asks for them, but they are never made to take centre stage, as has happened at Lakeland. Any healings are secondary to the apostles main concerns of bringing people to repentance and faith, and therefore, that should be our main concern. But doing that is very difficult without the conviction of the Holy Spirit, so that is why we need to pray, above all, for the Holy Spirit to come down and do that work which He alone can do.

10) We must, therefore, not only make sure that preaching the gospel is the main focus of the church’s work, made possible only by the power of the Holy Spirit of God, we must also make sure that the whole gospel is preached, i.e. what Jesus said we needed to do, what He told His disciples to do, and what His apostles did and taught: denying ourselves, risking everything, (taking up our cross), for Jesus, following Jesus, confessing our sins, repenting, being baptised, having our sins washed away, dying to self, to sin and to the world, being raised to new life, being filled with the Holy Spirit, being regenerated by the Holy Spirit, being made sons and daughters of God, having our hearts circumcised, being integrated into the Body of Christ, being made holy and righteous, for this is the predominant purpose of God for man.

11) We need to truly live in the light of eternity, as if judgement is real and imminent, and the next world, not this one, is more important. This means a disregard of money and wealth, living as simply as possible, giving away everything we can, speaking to people about their salvation, warning people of the judgement to come; living holy lives that are noticeably different to those around us. Are we truly in the world, but not of it?

It is a shame to us to admit that Muslims live in the light of eternity far better than Christians; they wear different clothes, they eat different food, they pray five times a day wherever they are, they go to the mosque regularly, they send their children to the mosque to be taught Arabic and the Koran, their suicide bombers kill themselves for the sake of a reward beyond the grave. They are like the Early Christians in this respect, and we need to ask ourselves what we are going to do about it.

12) We must make sure that there is no showmanship in our services or meetings, that there is nothing that draws attention to people and not to God. We should try to make sure that every word we sing is directed to God, that everything we do is for His glory, that any singers or players or instruments are never put centre stage, but always put to one side; and at the front of the room there is a simple cross or a plain curtain or a window, directing our thoughts away from man to God.

13) We must make sure that Biblical standards of simplicity and modesty of dress are upheld, in contrast to Lakeland and many similar places, that slovenliness is taken away from our midst, and people worship God in their best clothes, as befitting priests appearing before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, (as per the Lord’s directions, Ex.28), seeing we are all priests of the Most High God. Of course, anyone who would seek to attend any of our meetings should be welcomed with open arms, whatever he or she is wearing, but those who know their God should show their respect. . It was not that long ago that everybody in the country, even those who did not attend services, dressed in their ‘Sunday best’ on Sundays because it was the Lord’s Day. They showed more respect than many church attenders today, who by the way that they dress show that they think more highly of their boss at work or of other people they serve than they do of Almighty God. Again, they are showing that they are playing at Christianity. Our predecessors in the faith and all the people in Romania that I know would be appalled by the way we allow people to dress when they worship God. This is not to prescribe what people should wear, but that it should be modest and should be the best possible for God.

14) One of the contrasts between what God wants and what was at Lakeland and many other places, is in the realm of music where we need to be very careful. The beat of the music has to be carefully scrutinised , for the rhythm can be of the devil, and lead people away from God. We need to beware of unnecessary repetition, which we have realised the devil uses in occultic practices. The matter of the loudness of the music needs particular attention. At Lakeland, the volume of the music was far too loud, which is not only unnecessary and an aping of the world’s music, but can also be damaging to the ears. Our bodies, including our ears, are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and should therefore be treated with respect, not blasted with very loud sounds. All revivals have taken place without any amplification. If any amplification is used, the sound level should be only what is necessary, which means much lower than it is in most churches. Amplification is not for the deaf, (they have their own systems), but it is far more likely to cause deafness to those who do not have it now, just as it is doing in worldly discotheques. There was loud music during the last Welsh Revival, but it was very different from what we usually have today. It was unaccompanied! It was based on an overwhelming fear and respect for God, and it was directed by the Holy Spirit.

15) We should also think about the subject of continuous noise. People today have become accustomed to noise wherever they go, and have become dependent upon it. They must have it at work, in the shops, at home in church meetings and services, and for some, everywhere they go, with a personal stereo. They are frightened of silence, and equate it with being sad and miserable. "Better to have the noise of the market place," they say, "than the silence of the cemetery," seeking to justify all the noise at Lakeland and similar places. But that is not the choice for children of God. The choice is not between the market place and the cemetery, but between the flesh and the spirit. Constant noise is the trademark of the world organised without God, the world of entertainment, of money making, of getting everywhere as fast as possible, of arguments, of war. We should have got well beyond that, and be able to appreciate the value of silence, giving God the chance to speak. I think of John Hyde, who had been asked to pray for Wilbur Chapman, an evangelist. They went into a room, and Hyde fell on his knees, and didn’t really pray openly for ten minutes, until he knew he had got through to the throne room. As John Hyde prayed, Chapman sensed the presence of God. After the ten minutes of tears and sighs, the international evangelist, whom Moody described as the greatest evangelist in America, reported "there came up from the depth of his heart such petitions as I have never heard before, and I rose from my knees to know what real prayer was." There was more life in that ten minutes of John Hyde seeking God than in hours of our normal church services. It is true that we need life, but it has to be spiritual life not fleshly life. It has to be inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. "Without me," said the Son of God, "you can do nothing."

The sounds God wants to hear are those of our weeping at the sins of His people and His world; the sounds of bold declarations of the whole gospel to sinners; the sounds of sinners crying out for mercy as they are convicted of sin; the sounds of their praise as they are brought out of darkness into His marvellous light; the sounds of all His saints praising Him with reverence and joy for all His wonderful works, and especially that He has remembered to have mercy on the dust of the earth.

16) What has happened at Lakeland and its offshoots shows up the need for the Church to experience the real power of God at work, not a counterfeit occultic power, as we have seen at Lakeland. A.W.Tozer (in The Divine Conquest), suggested that "we Bible believing Christians should announce a moratorium on religious activity, and set our house in order, preparatory to the coming of an impulse of creative power from God. So carnal is the body of Christians which composes the conservative wing of the Church," he declared, "so shockingly irreverent are our public services in some quarters, so degraded are our religious tastes in others, that the need for power could scarcely have been greater at any time in history. I believe we should profit immensely were we to declare a period of silence and self examination during which each one of us searched his own heart and sought to meet every condition for a real baptism of power from on high."

That is why we are praying for God to rend the heavens and come down and shake the powers of hell and everything that lifts itself up against the authority and the purity of the Lord Jesus Christ. When that happens, that will be real revival and awakening, which will radically change lives and society.